If the Berlin Wall can come down, anything is possible--even a peace accord on spam.
Some foes of junk email are hammering out a treaty of sorts with their sworn enemy, one-time king of spam Sanford Wallace.
Although not all in the widespread antispamming community are on board--and some haven't even heard about the truce--others clearly are working to make a deal that they say will benefit all, even if it does mean making a deal with the devil.
In exchange for antispammers' support of Wallace's new mass emailing network, Global Technology Marketing Incorporated (GTMI), Wallace will support what many consider to be the strongest antispam legislation proposed: Rep. Chris Smith's (R-New Jersey) Netizens Protection Act.
Wallace said his partner in GTMI, Walt Rines, president of spam firm Quantum (and GTMI), recently signed a $10 million contract with GetNet to get access for the network for five years.
Instead of actually sending unsolicited commercial email, Wallace plans to pay Internet service providers to carry the email ads. In turn, ISPs could offer customers discounts for their willingness to receive ads, much like companies offer free email in exchange for customers viewing ads.
But Wallace said he needs to know that once he and Rines launch their joint venture, they won't be shut down by antispammers, as they have so often before. So he has been talking deténte to his nemeses, and they've actually responded.
The deal makes sense, even if it turns out to be a pact with the devil, according to the chief antispammer negotiator, Jim Nitchals. "Even though many of us don't feel like he deserves a chance, it's still worth a try in exchange for the Smith endorsement," he said.
Wallace, who has always been forthcoming in his main goal to push limits and make money, basically agreed. "It's not about trusting me," he said. "It's about trusting what I'm trying to do."
Clearly, not all antispammers trust Wallace. At least one prominent antispammer said today he didn't know anything about the deal and that he and others were unfamiliar with Nitchals.
If nothing else, it underscores how difficult Nitchals's job will be and how disparate the antispamming community really is.
Wallace is asking for ten of the top antispam activists to make a statement supporting the business model on which GTMI is based, although not necessarily to directly to support GTMI itself. In exchange, he said he will do everything in his power to fight spam and support the Smith bill.
"It's going to be the first online peace treaty between spammers and antispammers in history," Wallace said today.
Of course, the history of the war between spammers and antispammers didn't really get going until the last year or so.
But what it has lacked in time, it has made up in intensity. Spammers and antispammers have been going at each other with a vengeance, using everything from the legal system to pressure and threats to get spammers kicked off networks.
Between lawsuits from several Internet service providers and getting repeatedly kicked off ISPs, Wallace in the last few months has been talking like a changed man, saying he is no longer the spammer he once was.
Yesterday, he officially raised the white flag. "They have won the war against spam," he said. "I've been forced into this position."
But Wallace, first and foremost a businessman, hastily added that he's not upset with losing. "I'm going to make the best of it," he said.
And to Wallace, the best means making lots of money.
Wallace said in the five-year contract that Rines signed with GetNet, Rines guarantees GetNet $10 million in business over the life of the contract. In exchange, "they agree to facilitate our virtual backbone network."
Now it's up to Wallace to stick by his word and convince as many antispammers as possible that he is trustworthy. Because if he isn't, it's all over for GTMI once again.
"I have commitments from many, many people," Nitchals said. "I've gone to bat for them and what they say. I also am going to watch them on the Internet. I will do everything ethically and legally within my power to see they are shut down if they spam again."
The deténte, he added, "is an absolutely astonishing event all the way around and will have major repercussions for this debate."